Sympathy for the Palestinians is surging among Democrats, a new Gallup poll has revealed.
For the first time in the 23 years that Gallup has asked the question, more Democrats say they feel greater sympathy for the Palestinians than for the Israelis. The landmark shift is undoubtedly shaped in part by Israel’s new far-right, ultra-Zionist government, which came to power late last year. But there are also other factors at play.
The poll, conducted last month as part of Gallup’s annual World Affairs survey, found that 49 percent of Democrats sympathized more with the Palestinians than the Israelis — an 11-point upward swing from the previous year. In contrast, 38 percent of Democrats said they feel greater sympathy towards Israelis.
It’s not all bad news for Israel. Republican sympathy for Israel has remained constant since 2006 at around 80 percent. But the big picture is this: the bipartisan consensus on Israel is starting to unravel.
The Generational Gap on Israel-Palestine
The growing divide on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict reflects a generational gap as much as it does a partisan one. Millennials are driving the rise in sympathy for the Palestinians. According to Gallup, millennials across party lines have greater sympathy for the Palestinians. At the same time, Israel has commanding support among older Americans — even those in the Gen X cohort.
The Gallup study did not include the Gen Z demographic. But a Pew Research Center survey last year found that a majority of Americans between the ages of 18 and 29 view Israel unfavorably. The generational divide on Israel also extends to within the American Jewish community, as millennial and Gen Z Jewish activists embrace Judaism as a social justice tradition and emphatically support Palestinian rights.
Sympathy for the Palestinians doesn’t necessarily equate to disdain for Israel. A majority of Democrats (54 percent) still view Israel favorably. But the tilt toward Palestinians likely reflects a growing sensitivity toward the power imbalance between nuclear-armed Israel and the stateless Palestinians. Since 2008, Palestinian fatalities in Israeli-Palestinian violence is 20 times greater than that of Israelis, according to the United Nations.
The attitudinal shift toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is also shaped by broader changes in political values. More generally, younger progressives tend to see the world as divided between the powerful and the marginalized. Guided by a radical belief in equality, they support the group they see as weak and oppressed. The growing skepticism toward Israel has to do with both progressive values and Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians.
Israel’s Narrowing Support Base in America
Religion is a driving force in shaping perceptions of Israel. Fervent support for Israel, polls by Gallup and others show, is tied to church attendance. Evangelical Christians are Israel’s most staunch supporters. They are heavily Republican. Meanwhile, religious observance is on the decline among millennial Democrats.
The bigger picture is this: support for Israel was once a bipartisan affair in America, but it’s narrowing to white evangelicals, Orthodox Jews, and, in terms of party, Republicans. This has yet to translate into tangible change in U.S. policy toward Israel. But we are starting to see greater talk among Democrats for conditioning U.S. aid to Israel — including by Senator Chris Murphy yesterday. The times are changing.
Is Opposition to Israel Leading to Greater Anti-Semitism?
The decline in support for Israel, some argue, is driven by anti-Semitism. But the polling data doesn’t substantiate those claims. Recent years have indeed seen an alarming rise in anti-Semitic hate crimes. But attacks, including the terrorist massacre at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, have been perpetrated by white nationalists who have no goodwill toward the Palestinians.
It’s also worth noting that as sympathy for Palestinians grows, Jews continue to be held viewed positively in America. In fact, a Pew Research Center study released this week shows that Jews are America’s most favorably viewed religious group, ranking even higher than mainline Protestants and Catholics.
Thirty-five percent of Americans say they view Jews very or somewhat favorably, according to Pew. Six percent of Americans view Jews unfavorably, compared to 27 percent for evangelical Christians and 22 percent for Muslims. (Muslims and Mormons are the least-liked religious communities in America.)
Jews are the sole major religious group in America that has a net positive rating among all other religious groups, agnostics, and atheists. So while many will continue to claim that growing sympathy for Palestinians is tied to hatred for Jews, the evidence simply isn’t there. The major driver is the centering of social justice in today’s Democratic Party.
Arif Rafiq is the editor of Globely News. Rafiq has contributed commentary and analysis on global issues for publications such as Foreign Affairs, Foreign Policy, the New Republic, the New York Times, and POLITICO Magazine.
He has appeared on numerous broadcast outlets, including Al Jazeera English, the BBC World Service, CNN International, and National Public Radio.